Teaching Tips

Recital Magic: Moga Conservatory of Dance

From Coppélia. Photo by Toshi Oga, courtesy of MOGA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

MOGA Conservatory of Dance

Misa Oga Hansen

Salt Lake City, UT

Since its grand opening five years ago, MOGA Conservatory of Dance has become a respected training program within the heart of Salt Lake City. Each spring, Hansen and her students put on a production of a full-length ballet that attracts art lovers from all around the Salt Lake Valley.

Pro tip: "I try not to replace technique time with rehearsals. We want to be sure my students are continuing to develop the strengths that they will be showcasing. You can't separate the technique from the artistry."

On themes: "We did Coppélia the very first year we were open, and then we brought it back again last year to celebrate our five-year anniversary. It was great to see the dancers progress. It's been a great choice because it's a comedy, so even our audience members who may not be familiar with ballet can really connect with it."

Venue: "The theater has a lighting design team that I work with, but I come up with my own plan. I like to keep things as bright as possible without involving too much front light, because it washes the dancers out."

Logistics: "I make so many spreadsheets on how the show is going to run, how we need to line up the dancers, which classes need to be where and when. We have multiple meetings with the staff and teachers, and I make sure every little thing is practiced in class ahead of time. We work on bows for a whole month. The kids practice quick changes, putting on their headpieces, and the correct way to take their costumes on and off."

Costume strategy: "I'm really picky with costumes. I don't like anything too bright, shiny or glittery. I just want to keep to the delicate quality of ballet. For the little dancers, we purchase costumes that they can keep, because that is a big highlight of the performance for them. It's important to me that the dancers love them."

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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